This is a Castles & Crusades adventure module, although it can easily be used with any pre-4E version of D&D.
This is a village heavy adventure. Three separate marginal villages are encountered. There is a progression of evil in the three villages, although none of them are outright hostile. The villages are FULL of factions. This makes the entire place a bit of a sandbox in which the party works to obtain whatever the adventure hook is. It’s a fabulous little piece, primarily because of the factions and potential for social interactions that are not generally present with evil humanoids and bandits.
What happens to civilization when the borderlands retract? When the mines play out and the crops fail a few years in a row? What’s left is someplace just past he borderlands. A lawless place full of bandits, outlaws, escaped convicts, rogues, mercenaries, bounty hunters, and all of their various hangers on. That’s what’s presented here. Just past the last of the civilized strongholds are a series of three marginal/failed villages. Created to support mining, they never really thrived and the mines played out quickly, and poorly. The three villages each represent a slightly different quality of collapse. The first has a tavern, but almost everyone drinks for free. The second has a tavern, with humanoids camped out in it. The third is a fully humanoid controlled village, the victim of an invasion and slaughter. The entirety of the three villages and the surrounding regions are ostensibly under the control of a bandit lord. The first village shows more of this control, the second less, and the third almost none. All of the villages have a raw lawlessness feel to them. It borders on hostility but may better be described as bullies. None of the villagers, humans or humanoids, are outright hostile to the point of attacking the party on sight. This is a lawless society where might makes right … and without any real organization.
Surrounding the locations are the various motivations & goals of the inhabitants. There are A LOT of factions thrown in to this mix. Ready? Set! Baron Jerkface wants to acquire the lands of his neighbor, Baron Inexperienced. To this end his pays off a notorious band of humanoid raiders, the Red Caps, to raid Inexperienced’s lands. Inexperienced will then have to beg Jerkface for help and he’ll extract an oath of fealty from him. Once this happens Jerkface will pay off the Red Caps and ride to the rescue. But he’s not dealing with the Red Caps, he’s dealing with one band of the Red Caps, and they don’t intend to stop raiding once they receive the final payment, leveraging the deal in to an extortion scheme to raise their position within the greater Red Cap band. Jerkface send a group of men to negotiate with the Red Caps. They take the payment and stop raiding or they send the Red Caps heads back as a threat. The Red Caps send a group to negotiate with Jerkfaces men. Their order: get more money or send their heads back as a threat. Jerkfaces guys are in village 1, trying to figure out what to do next. Red Caps men are in village 2, trying to figure out what to do. The entire region is ‘under the control’ of a bandit king named Miles, who is really the rightful ruler of Jerkfaces lands. He’s not a good guy or a bad guy, he goes both ways. His bandits are called the Malcontents, and portions are located in village 1 and village 2. Neither are fond of each other, and each of these groups are basically lazy ruffians, fighting, eating, and drinking all day long, while exerting as little energy as possible. There’s an assassin present in one of the villages, hired by Jerkface to get rid of all the bounty hunters who are now showing up. He doesn’t want them exposing his plans. The villages are full of slave workers. They are ‘encouraged’ to remain and farm the land so the bandits will have food. The third village has an evil guy sent by his evil lord to take over the region. He’s lazy and apathetic so his evil lord sent a second evil guy, much more loyal and full of zeal. He’s in the third village also, and in the process of a subtle takeover. Finally, several of the slaves and humanoids are detailed and given short backgrounds and motivations. In to this environment the PC’s show up. There are five or six small hooks to get the PCs moving and traveling to these villages, however none are of the ‘epic quest’ variety. Bounty Hunting, spying, exploring, slaving and so on are all potential hooks.
This is one of the most socially complex environments I have ever seen. It is all presented VERY clearly and is easy to follow. The humanoids and humans are all presented as real living people. None are psycho-killers or frothing at the mouth. They are lazy, apathetic, want to get ahead with little work, and have personalities. I generally don’t like humanoids in my adventures however this product makes me want to warm to them. They are real. For example, in one room there are 12 orcs. Two of them are notorious and have names and reputations all over the region, with a small paragraph on them. Not just “HP 5 and HP 6.” All of this allows the PCs to interact with the bad guys and maybe move freely among them. This should be a fabulous environment for the party to explore and interact with.
The final village, a conquered gnome settlement, is the most stereotypical dungeon environment. The creatures here are all evil, not just lazy. It also has the most dungeon-like environment, and is the most organized. It has several nice touches of atmosphere, such as the humanoids all eating the driders children, spitted with cinnamon and spices. Yum!
The DM is going to have to do a little work to get the most out of this one. You really need to read through it, note the names of some of principal individuals and groups, and do some name dropping before the party gets close. Knowing Miles has a rep, or that the two orcs are notorious, and so on, will really help cement this location in the minds of the party. The various hooks are a little weak, but again with a little work the DM should be able to get several of them to link up and get the party visiting most of the areas.
This is available at DriveThru.